Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Damages: Season 1

This week I was obsessed with Damages: Season 1, which I watched on Watch Instantly, two to three episodes at a time.

This series is about a law firm, headed by Glenn Close, that is involved in a complicated high profile case. The defendant, Frobisher, is played really well by Ted Danson. Close plays Patty Hewes, a steely, sometimes creepy, and driven attorney who you can't trust. The drama also centers on a young attorney new to the firm, Helen. I grew to dislike this actress who seemed both wooden and limp at the same time, and was out of her league in terms of the acting talent in the cast.

The story has many twists and turns and you never know who to trust. It also leaps back and forth in time in a way that enhances the suspense and tension. I liked this a lot, but by the end it felt exhausting and strained, and I was a little sick of it. Still, will I watch Season 2?


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Kennedys

Over the last few days I watched The Kennedys, an 8-part made for TV movie that mainly centers on Jack Kennedy's presidency.

I found it to be very lukewarm. There wasn't enough politics or social context to make it really exciting or relevant. It was more of a personal drama, which is fine, but a central story line, between JFK and Jackie Kennedy was very weak. Katie Holmes played the First Lady, and in striving to be "graceful" she came across as remote and a little dim. There was no spark there. Nor was there any spark between her and Kinnear, who played Jack Kennedy. I didn't feel them fall in love or sense any bond between them. This made their marital troubles seem just oh so blah and unimportant.

The most engaging part of The Kennedys was the relationships between the three central men, Jack, Bobby and Joe. These scenes crackled and Tom Wilkinson was wonderful as the domineering and ambitious father. And by the end, I was horrified by Bobby's assassination (Jack's just felt like so what).

Ted Kennedy was nowhere to be seen. In fact the only other one of the siblings in the film was the sister who got lobotomized. Her brief storyline was presented only in relation to her parents, not her brothers.

All in all, this was watchable but forgettable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shutter Island

The other night I watched Shutter Island on Watch Instantly. Actually, I finished watching it yesterday afternoon, and had been watching it in bits at night for a while.

I did not enjoy this movie. It seemed to employ every cliche in the book -- cliches about mental institutions and evil doctors; detective story/noir cliches; and horror film cliches. It felt really labored watching the actors make it through.

However, the ending kind of throws everything out of whack and kind of makes up for the heavy handed shlock. It's one of those movies you think about a lot after it's over, in spite of its flaws; and one of those movies you might watch again, just to see it from the beginning knowing how it ends.

To summarize the premise of Shutter Island, a federal marshal and his new partner are investigating a missing patient at an institution for the criminally insane. The hospital is on an island that can only be gotten to by ferry which is controlled by the institution. Once there, the two investigators are isolated in the creepiest of environments, and it is possible that they are victims of an evil conspiracy...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gertrude Stein: Five Stories

I just got back from a wonderful exhibition at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. "Gertrude Stein: Five Stories" is an aesthetic exploration of Stein's life told in five sequences.

The first, "Picturing Gertrude", presents young photos of her and her family, but is really focused on her as she was photographed by significant artists. In this way, it is very much about Stein's unique and formidable appearance. To understand this woman and writer, and her impact on art, means understanding what she looked like.

The second, "Domestic Stein," focuses on her life with her partner, or "wife", Alice B. Toklas. This section chronicles their domestic partnership and the creation of their home, salon, and fashion aesthetic. Again, it is represented largely through photographs of the two women. They were photographed together as a couple frequently, and this "story" was particularly significant in that in anchors Stein's life and persona in her lesbian relationship.

Perhaps the most important "story", and literally the central one, is "The Art of Friendship" which presents the artistic and social circles which Stein inhabited. The many famous men who Stein was friends with are a critical part of her legacy. Yet somehow (and I'm really not sure why) I found this the least dynamic part of the show. It seemed a little rushed, too. Interestingly though, it took it's time with her opera and theater collaborations, and included footage from a dramatic ballet which Stein wrote the words for. I had no idea she created librettos...

The fourth part, "Celebrity Stein" chronicles her tour of America, her fame in her own country following the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and follows her interest in the World War and her writings on war. Interestingly, the exhibition mentions that she and Toklas were protected Jews during the Nazi occupation of France, but there is little information as to what this was like for the couple.

The fifth and final "story", "Legacies" showcases the impact Stein had on art after her death. Featuring the Andy Warhol portrait, this section includes pieces by Glen Ligon and other's (I can't remember the name of the female artist whose work was an inverted image of Stein created entirely with spools of thread, seen through a glass viewer...).

The sections that were most significant for me were the second and fifth. It was very moving seeing a public lesbian relationship from that era highlighted and given significance. The small final section put her enduring work into context.

Although each story included brief bits of text from Stein's work, I would have liked if more of her unique and difficult language was included.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I watched Damage last night on Watch Instantly. This early 90s film by Louis Malle (who I love) stars Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche as sexually obsessed lovers.

Binoche's character, Anna, is dating Jeremy Irons' character's son. Binoche and Irons have an intense erotic attraction that neither of them can ignore, but for some reason Anna doesn't leave the son. I found this to be a major flaw in the movie. Or a major character flaw. It made her unlikeable to me. Irons' character was of course unlikeable too, but his quiet and pained performance commanded much more sympathy. Binoche's Anna was presented as mysterious and having a tragic past, and presented as emotionally elusive... Perhaps a kind of femme fatale... In any event, in spite of the sexual heat, there was something cold and impenetrable (and a little boring) about their relationship). Although the ending was beautifully executed and powerful, there was something empty about it. I suspect this emptiness comes from Irons' restrained performance: his emotions for his son (and anyone else) were not accessible, and this made the ultimate tragedy seem sort of academic in a way.

At first I was turned off by Damage. But I got sucked in and really began to appreciate it. (By the way, it's possible I've seen it before, certain scenes, including the haunting ending, were extremely familiar to me)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blithe Spirit

Last night on Watch Instantly I watched the 1945 English film, Blithe Spirit about a married man who becomes haunted by his previous wife. The film centers around the upheaval this causes in his marriage.

The dialogue is very taut and crisp. Fast-paced banter that at times is too quick, too sharp, a bit too bitchy, and too... verbal. It's a very verbal talky film, but because it's so well written and well-paced it is thoroughly enjoyable. It also features a hilarious and earnest medium.

Blithe Spirit moves very quickly and has a breezy feel. Although a ghost story, there is no gloom and doom (in fact it is VERY blithe).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

The day before I left for San Francisco (three days ago) I saw Crazy, Stupid Love with my mother.

This sensitive, yet slightly screwball romantic comedy was just what I needed to calm my nerves.

Starring Steve Carell, it's about a long married man with kids whose wife (Julianne Moore) suddenly wants a divorce. He finds himself adrift in the singles bar scene and a suave younger man (Ryan Gosling) takes him under his wing. There's a whole Eliza Doolittle situation that goes on for a while. Then the movie focuses more on the damage to the family and the emotional needs of the characters. There are a couple of subplots as well, and everything comes together in an amusing, improbably mess. Of course, things resolve the way you want them too (except for one subplot with the teenage son; as the Times wrote, this resolution was "icky and insensitive").